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On Writing. One way to reach a story.

July 28, 2016

I wasn’t a Hemingway fan—having never read a single word of his until a few years ago—and wouldn’t call myself one now. For every captivating short story he has written, there’s another one that is a total loss. A waste of time. I wouldn’t want to emulate that.

But I the very first story of his I ever read, got my attention for some pretty indefinable elements of style. So indefinable that I can’t begin to express what they might have been, but the result was that I kept turning the page even though I didn’t know what was going on in the story or where it was taking place, or who the characters were other than a name or why I should even care about the characters, who had not even been given description.

All I really knew was, that despite my not knowing much of anything, I kept turning the page, and the next page and the next, filling in the blanks out of my own imagination because the author wasn’t going to do it for me.

That’s what I want my readers to do. Keep turning the page.

I didn’t necessarily want to copy Hemingway (as if anyone could) or try to analyze what he had done with that story.

I just wanted my readers to keep turning the page.

So, when I had in mind to re-write a story of mine, that I had done at least two full versions of and did not like either one enough to bother revising, I thought I’d try something. This was at my Maine writing retreat. I’d read a story out of my collected Hemingway, each night as I was falling asleep. Story picked at total random. Fell asleep before I’d got half way through those few pages.

And woke up, and wrote on my story, a page or so.

And did the same the next night and morning, and the next.

And by the end of the fourth morning, I had done what I had always wanted to do with that story. Told it.

Summer Concerts in the Maine Woods: Chamber Music at Monteux

July 15, 2016

It would be hard to find a better or more enjoyable venue to experience of chamber music and symphony than the auditorium at the Pierre Monteux School and Music Festival in Hancock Maine. The room is small—no more than a couple of hundred folding chairs. There are no cheap seats; every single one is no more than fifty feet from the elevated stage. But the best seats are in the front row, and on the chamber music nights (Wednesdays) we found empty ones ready for the taking.

From these you can see the expressions on the faces of the players, the movements of their fingers, the interplay between each of them at the key harmonic moments of the music. And, of course, hear those instruments and the lovely sounds that come from them to be reflected off the high wood ceiling and fill the auditorium. Seen through the wide windows, the oak and birch leaves outside seemed to be nodding in time with the music.

But the best reasons to attend the Wednesday Chamber Music series is the choice of pieces to be performed. Don’t be put off by the term “chamber music.” The selections run the gamut from the most staid and traditional of Beethoven’s Adagio for Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11 to a jazzy upbeat rendering of There Will Never Be Another You that would be right at home in the classiest of cabaret lounges. Some pieces are solo, some with just two or three instruments, and the joy comes from being so close and so in touch with the performance itself.

My own personal favorite of the evening was a haunting rendition of Philip Glass’s “String Quartet No. 2, ‘Company.’” Daniel Mullins introduced the piece with a few words referring to previous critical appraisal of Glass’s works as being “minimalist” and characterized by repetition, but these words did no justice to the beautiful performance that followed. To my ear, there were layers upon layers of ghostly themes all built on the solid foundation of Carrie Miller’s violincello.

More than once the program of July 13, 2016 brought the crowd to their feet in a thunderous, foot-stomping show of affection and approval. The thunderous finale of the final piece, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String Orchestra and Piano, earned just such approval. There were two conductors for the piece; Monteux is a school not just for those who aspire to the highest level of instrumental performance, but for those who would conduct the orchestras in which they will one day perform.

For all of them, Monteux is the place they come to learn. For the rest of us, it is the place we come to listen and to expand our horizon as to just how broad the concept of “chamber music” can be.

Monteux Contact: E-mail: pierremonteuxschool@gmail.com Cell: 207-460-0313 Fax: 207-221-5702

A Long March: From November 15, 1969 to this night

June 2, 2016

I’m not one given to reflecting. “Don’t plan too far the future, don’t look too close the past, don’t be fooled into thinking the next day will be like the last. . . .”

But in the interest of completing a Toastmasters speech from the Storytellers book, I looked back a few years, to a place that on the few times I return to it, brings me pleasure. And dare I say, fifty years on, not a little insight.

NewM obe 11.16.69

I was in college at Marshall U in November of 1969, a sophomore as was my best friend and (though we knew it not at the time) my bride-to-be. November 15 was the scheduled date of the first of several massive marches on Washington D. C.—the “New Mobilization”—to demand an end to the war in Viet Nam. Some of our friends had already left for the march that Friday, some had rented a U-Haul and traveled en masse in the cargo hold. Karen and I had missed that boat.

“Let’s hitch-hike.” So, on Friday afternoon, in the warmest clothes we owned, with $20.00 in the pockets and a blanket against the weather, we stuck out our thumbs and hit the road. By nightfall we were entering the mountains east of Charleston, W.Va., and a light snow was falling. A few rides and many hours later found us on the onramp to I-81 north. Blanket round our shoulders, thumbs out. A long-haul trucker picked us up, kept us warm to the I-70 junction, and left us on the ramp Saturday morning.

We were innocent, K. and I. Heading for the Capitol, woefully unequipped for a long weekend in a city we did not know. Perhaps that innocence showed as a halo above our heads, but more likely something much larger was going on. A flood of like-minded people were going to that same city, as full as idealistic hopes as we were.

A carful or them, on their way to the march from Indiana, stopped and picked us up early that morning before the sheriff could find us on the ramp. “Are you going to the march?” “Yes, hitch-hiked from Marshall.” “Where are you staying?” “We don’t know. We don’t have a place to stay. We don’t know anyone here.” “Then why don’t you stay with us.”

And so we did. We had a place to stay for the next two nights, communal dinners, a ride to the march and back. With all the rest that cold November 15, we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House and the government buildings with armed soldiers, rifles at the ready, atop the government buildings. We lent our two voices to the million-odd out there beneath the Washington Monument, thinking that it all meant something.

Perhaps it did. In time, years afterward, Nixon completed the withdrawal from Viet Nam at the end of his first term in office, bringing an end to the war that he had inherited.

Did our voices matter then? Hard to say, now.

When the march was over, our generous hosts on their way back to Indiana dropped us off at the junction of I-70 west and I-81 south, and we thumbed our way home.

Without the generosity of those folks, all of them, who took pity on these two wayward souls on the road with their $20 and their blanket, we might have frozen, or been lost, or never have made it to that march. “How can we ever thank you?” we asked.

Their answer was this. “Whenever you run across someone who needs your help, you can help them.”

Over the years, I have taken that to heart, and done my best in small and personal ways, to reach out from time to time to those I see in need. This thought has shaped much of my life since then.

They won’t know who I am, and I have no idea the names of those who helped us. It was nearly fifty years ago. I’d like to think that, working from their example, I have shown them the thanks that they earned then.

Peace.

P.S. Although no longer married, Karen and I remain friends to this day.

Pacifica Spindrift’s “Inherit the Wind”–a take on the ‘trial of the century’ in a time and place not so far from our own

May 30, 2016

The many good things about Pacifica Spindrift’s new production “Inherit the Wind” (by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee), are amplified imperceptibly by the timely convergence of a classic script as relevant today when first produced in 1955, under the skilled hand of seasoned director Barbara Williams. The complex choreography of a large cast is anchored by some stellar performances in the roles of defense attorney Henry Drummond (Louis Schilling) and head prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady (John Musgrave) in this courtroom drama based on a 1925 legal case once billed as “the trial of the century.” A substitute high school teacher was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.

The trial itself is the battle of the forces of good and evil, of religion and science, of intellectual freedom versus faith-based certainty in the Bible as the source of ultimate truth. This conflict is as crucial in American beliefs today as it was when the play was introduced during the McCarthy era of the late 1950s, or the real trial on which it is based, the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. Think of today’s climate-change deniers versus an overwhelming body of science. Or Wall Street versus common-sense middle-class economics. What, after all, can be taken for the source of a real and final truth in the origin, or in the destiny, of humanity? And if there are differences of opinion, how can they be resolved?

In the play, set in a fictional Hillsboro somewhere in the American South, a schoolteacher has been brought to trial for having taught Darwin’s Origin of Species to a classroom firmly in the grip of Bible-belt beliefs. The world was created, as they believe, at 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. at 9:00 a.m. Any other construct including the millions of years required to make a rock, or to evolve a human being, is heresy. There is a witch-hunt here, and the schoolteacher is the heretic.

An ingeniously spare set allows the town to share stage space with the courtroom where most of the drama takes place. There is room in the background for the large cast of churchgoing townspeople to hold a picnic or conduct a service where the fire-and-brimstone breathing preacher, the reverend Jeremiah Brown (Stanley Scheidlinger) stirs his congregation to a frenzy in anticipation of victory at the coming trial. In the courtroom, prosecutor Brady and the town D.A. (Storm Russell), with the ill-concealed support of the judge (Steve Schwartz) seem to hold all the cards. But Drummond, faced with the refusal of the court to allow any of his witnesses to take the stand, faces up to the deceit. Sparks fly, genuine sparks between these two men sparring in defense of the values each holds most dear, as the battle heats up. The tension is palpable. The outcome in doubt. There are personal stakes at risk—the preacher’s daughter Rachel (Lindsay Shulz) is in love with the heretic teacher, but knows not how to keep his and her father’s love. Her conflicted minutes in the witness stand, the statement of her loosened hair at the play’s conclusion, speak volumes about the transitions her character undergoes.

There is not a false moment in the production. Director Barbara Williams knows the play well, and knows what she wants to say with it, ably seconded by Assistant Director Mae Linh Fatum in the management and seamless choreography of the large cast. Special nod to Annette Abunda’s costume design for allowing the characters to be who they are, rural but not rubes, in a time and place not so far from our own.

Performances: May 20 to June 5, 2016
Fridays – 5/20, 5/27, 6/3 at 8PM
Saturdays – 5/21, 5/28, 6/4 at 8PM
Sundays – 5/22, 5/29, 6/5 at 2PM

At: 1050 Crespi Drive
Pacifica, California 94044
United States

Box Office: (650) 359-8002 info@pacificaspindriftplayers.org

Redwood Writers’ Conference, April 23, 2016: Don’t miss it!

April 4, 2016

I can’t praise the value of a writers’ conference to the life and work of anyone with a strong self-image as a writer. This will be the fourth Redwood Writers Conference I’ve attended, and every time I come away fully charged, greatly informed, energized and ready to hit the keys. There’s much more to it than just the new information on craft and genre that comes from the sessions—new business contacts, new friends, new energy. All in one day—Saturday April 23 2016, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.—and all for a remarkably modest cost, at the Flamingo Resort and Spa, 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa CA
Click here for Redwood Writers Conference home page.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Register here. Registration closes April 18th.

MORNING KEYNOTE ADDRESS: “Storytelling: Lies Are the Least of It” Award-winning novelist Dorothy Allison will give her keynote address on “Storytelling: Lies are the least of it.”
Called “one of the finest writers of her generation” by the Boston Globe and “simply stunning” by the New York Times Book Review, Dorothy Allison is the best-selling author of Bastard out of Carolina–one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award.

Her novel “Cavedweller” became a national bestseller and NY Times Notable book of the year, and was adapted for the stage by Kate Moira Ryan and featured music by “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” composer, Stephen Trask.

LUNCHEON KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Albert Flynn DeSilver, the internationally published poet and writer, will be the featured speaker at the conference luncheon. DeSilver’s topic will be “From published writer to brilliant writer and beyond.”
In addition to his writing and poetry, including serving as Marin County’s very first Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, he is a speaker and workshop leader. His work has appeared in more than 100 literary journals worldwide, including ZYZZYVA. He is the author most recently of Beamish Boy: A Memoir, Letters to Early Street from La Alameda/University of New Mexico Press (2007), and “Walking Tooth & Cloud,” from French Connection Press in Paris (2007).

AGENTS PITCHFEST
Karyn Fischer has been working with BookStop Literary Agency since the beginning of 2014. She joined the agency after working as a bookseller and book buyer for an independent bookstore, and after completing a number of publishing internships. Though she reads adult novels, her real passion is children’s and young adult fiction, particularly novels with strong voice and an engaging story that makes her want to stay up all night enraptured and/or crying into her tea. BookStop Literary Agency represents children’s book writers across all genres and age ranges. Our agents are especially drawn to fiction and non-fiction picture books, middle grade, and young adult manuscripts with richly drawn characters, and intriguing, well-written stories. BookStop’s agents enjoy reading quirky picture books, multicultural and historical stories, magical realism, smart mysteries, realistic contemporary stories, sci-fi and fantasy stories, and literary fiction.

Laurie McLean is the co-founder of Fuse Literary, the literary agency of the future. With virtual offices in California, New York, Chicago, Vancouver and Dallas, Fuse Literary blends the tried and true elements of traditional publishing with the bold new strengths of indie-publishing. At Fuse,Laurie specializes in adult genre fiction plus middle-grade and young adult children’s books. She looks for visceral writing, amazing world-building, relentless pacing and characters that jump off the page. Query her at querylaurie@fuseliterary.com and put “Pen to Published Request” in the subject line or it will be auto-rejected.oughley

Amy Cloughley is an agent with Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Keeping with the agency’s unique legacy of The Reece Halsey Agency, she strives to represent the highest quality writing. Amy came to the agency in 2012 with a background in editing, writing, and marketing. You can also find her coaching writers via a Writer’s Digest course designed to help authors craft and strengthen their submission materials.Amy is looking for literary and commercial fiction, and has a special interest in mystery/suspense, near historical, and upmarket women’s fiction. She also seeks narrative non-fiction projects.

Download Full Schedule

Really, if your write and you live in Northern California, you don’t want to miss this.

Fringe of Marin: Still happening at Dominican of California April 2, 2016

March 29, 2016

Dominican University is celebrating the past, present and future of the performing arts with two great events. Join us for a day of music, dance and theater at Angelico Hall. All proceeds benefit the performing arts scholarships.

Fringe Festival Retrospective
2:00 p.m.
A panel discussion on the history of the Dramatic Arts
2016 Fringe of Marin One-Acts, including a dramatic reading by David Hirzel
Admission: $10.00

Arts125+
7:00 p.m.
A Musical Celebration featuring Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Students and the Community
Celebrating the 125 year history and beyond of the performing arts at Dominican University of California
Admission: $20.00

Paul Kantner Memorial: “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!”

February 2, 2016

I was not aware that Paul died a few days ago. I’m a belated reader of the SF Chronicle, I get my news from the radio (PBS, thank you), and evidently this news was not considered nobit there from the SF Guardianewsworthy enough, what with Trump and the Iowa caucuses, Sika virus, and what-have-you.

First thing I did on learning this news, was of course go to google for confirmation. An had links to the Airplane singing “Volunteers” at Woodstock. I know, I’m aging myself here, but not that much.

“Volunteers” was a call to revolution. Well, it was a band with a song that at least made that call. “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!” The song spoke to me, the idea spoke to me, and it continues to speak to me. “You are not going to be able to unring the bell!” (PK in an interview)

This nation has always been on the verge of a real democratic republic—the ideal envisioned in our constitution—but has always been misled by the corporate influence on the two “parties” that pretend to policies for the people, that are in fact for the extremes of wealth which wield the political power in today’s USA.

The call to revolution is directed at the naïve and idealistic. I know, I was one of them. Maybe I still am, but with the dimming eyesight of years I see that corporate interests have coopted revolution. Because they know that what follows is inevitably chaos, and have already laid the groundwork for reaping further profit from the chaos.

This is not to say that change is not worth fighting for. But seeing Kantner’s band playing that same song in suitcoats and ties at their induction to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame is a reminder that things change. The song is not the same.

So, Paul Kantner, thanks for the memories, they go back a long long way. And more recently, catching the band and the song from a boat out in the water in Sausalito, playing that old familiar song. It still made my heart beat a little bit faster. “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!”

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